Karzai on verge of breaking away from US

Karzai on verge of breaking away from US

KABUL - Reuters
Karzai on verge of breaking away from US

Karzai has often used civilian deaths caused by NATO to berate the international coalition for its failures in Afghanistan. Reuters photo

A U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan vowed Nov. 29 to investigate an airstrike that President Hamid Karzai said killed a two-year-old boy, as acrimony deepens over a deal to allow U.S. troops to stay in the country after 2014.

Civilian casualties have been one of the most sensitive issues of the 12-year military intervention in Afghanistan, and Karzai warned that the latest incident threatened the proposed bilateral security agreement (BSA) with Washington.

The NATO coalition acknowledged reports of the boy’s death and said it “deeply regrets any civilian casualties caused by this airstrike” on Nov. 28 in the southern province of Helmand, a hotbed of the Taliban insurgency. 

Karzai, whose troubled relationship with the U.S. has again erupted in public over the security agreement negotiations, has often used civilian deaths caused by NATO to berate the international coalition for its failures in Afghanistan.

‘They kill like flies’

Karzai “strongly condemns the airstrike by NATO forces on a house which killed one child and wounded two women,” a statement from his office said late Nov. 28. 

“This attack shows American forces are not respecting Afghan lives... As long as unilateral acts and atrocities continue by American forces on our people, we won’t sign this BSA.” The airstrike was launched from an unmanned drone and hit the village of Faqiran in Helmand on Nov. 28 morning, the statement said. “They give no importance to the life of civilians. They are killing civilians like flies,” Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, separately said. 

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said that the strike targeted an insurgent riding on a motorbike, but it did not confirm that a drone was involved. Karzai, who is due to step down ahead of presidential elections in April, has been stalling over the security pact that would see some U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after next year for training and counter-terror missions. About 75,000 NATO combat troops still deployed in Afghanistan are due to withdraw by the end of 2014 after fighting the Taliban.

If the bilateral pact is not signed, Western aid running to billions of dollars will be in serious jeopardy, and confidence in the fragile economy could collapse amid fears the country will slip back into ethnic fighting or civil war. “I don’t know if he fully realizes the risks,” said U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the U.S.-led coalition’s top commander.

Dunford told The Wall Street Journal Nov. 28 that Karzai’s failure to quickly sign the agreement could not only weaken the Afghan economy, but embolden powerful neighbors and lead to the collapse of the country’s security forces. 

“The uncertainty and the lack of confidence about the post-2014 environment has had an adverse effect on the people in some very real ways, whether it be the flight of young people who try to leave the country, whether it be plunging real-estate prices, the rate of the Afghani” currency, Dunford said.